WICKER PARK — A zoning change that would pave the way for a 99-room hotel to replace a gas station at North and Ashland avenues was OKd Thursday by the city's Plan Commission, city officials confirmed.
The hotel plan for 1551 W. North Ave. was first pitched to residents in August 2015 and tweaked several times over a series of community meetings — the most recent hosted by 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins last summer.
The hotel's architect, Ron Vari, said Thursday that the hotel's exterior materials changed since the last meeting, with concrete replaced by metal and glass.
George Nediyakalayil, who owns the Shell gas station and is developing the hotel, was not immediately available for comment on what brand the lodging would be and when the construction would begin.
Christian Ficara, spokesman for Hopkins, said on Thursday that Nediyakalayil has obtained a letter of intent from Hyatt.
The project still needs approval from the City Council.
On Thursday, Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, confirmed the approval of the development submitted by Nediyakalayil.
Renderings show an eight-story, 99-room hotel with 36 parking spaces.
When the project was introduced, Mark Kupiec, a zoning attorney representing Nediyakalayil, told a gathering of residents that "a gas station has become a tough business, especially in this neighborhood."
"A lot of new people coming in do not have cars, and the ones that do have cars, have smaller cars that are more efficient," he said. "There is not as much need."
Kupiec said that a rise in young families moving into the area has brought more friends and family who live out of town to visit who would rather stay at a local hotel than Downtown.
"We think [there's] more of a demand for hotels in the neighborhood than there was years back," Kupiec said.
Ficara said in a statement that Hopkins supports the hotel and Nediyakalayil has "consented" to Hopkins' request to staff the venture with local workers.
"After multiple community meetings and months of planning, we’re pleased that our community-led development process has resulted in a project that has earned the consensus of the Wicker Park and Bucktown communities," Ficara said.
Since traffic flow at the busy intersection was a big concern for neighbors, Ficara said that Hopkins advised Nediyakalayil to work with CDOT on "a strong parking and traffic plan for the hotel."
George Liakopoulos, who owns Hollywood Grill, directly across the street from the future hotel, said he was glad to hear the zoning change was approved.
"It's a great thing. We want to create more foot traffic on North and Ashland," Liakopoulos said.
The proposed hotel would be a few blocks south of Walsh Park, at the eastern end of the 2.7-mile-long Bloomingdale Trail that extends west to Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park.
The intersection is also about a half-mile east of Wicker Park's main hub, where the Northwest Tower and an adjacent building recently were transformed into the Robey and the Hollander, a pair of boutique hotels offering 89 rooms, with 20 of those in a shared-stay hostel setting.